Anthony Bandmann is back at Volkswagen Financial Services in Braunschweig. Since October 1, 2021, the 49-year-old executive has been responsible for Sales and Marketing on the Management Board of Europe's largest automotive financial services provider. Before moving to Volkswagen Credit Inc. (VCI) in Herndon (USA) as President and CEO, a position he held for almost 2.5 years, Bandmann was Chairman of the Management Board of Volkswagen Leasing GmbH. In the interview, Bandmann talks, among other things, about the plans he has in his new role as CSO of Volkswagen Financial Services AG. He also reveals why you don't have to "test drive" a new sofa before buying it.
Mr. Bandmann, welcome back to Braunschweig. You were, however, never really completely away from us. How did it feel to be here again after two years in the USA?
Bandmann: It's generally not unusual – in other major companies too – for managers to take on responsibility abroad for a while. The fact that my homecoming was welcomed with such warmth and affection and people were genuinely happy to see me again made it much easier for me to start up again here in Braunschweig. For me and my family, Braunschweig has become our home over the last ten years, so I had no problems at all in coming back. But that doesn't mean I would want to miss the time I spent in Herndon – despite all the difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a great and interesting time.
As the new head of sales, you undoubtedly have some big topics on your agenda. What are they?
Bandmann: First and foremost, there's the issue of growth, or the question of how we can grow sustainably in times of changing customer demands and increasing digitalization. A big part of the answer to this question is consistent customer centricity and our new European operating model.
Customer centricity? Sounds complicated. What's the idea behind it, Mr. Bandmann?
Bandmann: It isn't complicated because our customers have always been our focus. Nevertheless, we have to steer the company even more decidedly in the future with the customer as the basis of our considerations, as our compass needle, so that we can continue to meet customer requirements in what is a dynamic market environment. Our strategy, our actions and our projects – everything must be consistently geared towards the customer or, to put it another way, assessed from the customer's perspective. To some extent this is also a question of philosophy, of our mindset. And why do we have to do this? Because customer behavior has changed and competition has increased. Think of Auto1 or Tesla, for example. The competition is aggressive, innovative and digital, and – this is often overlooked – some of them have very good access to the capital market. In other words, the others are not just small startups, they are getting bigger and they have a lot of money to invest. We must under no circumstances underestimate this development.
Okay, that's the current competition, but how has customer behavior changed?
Bandmann: We are all now used to ordering our everyday consumer goods online. Clothes, day-to-day commodities, services, or the trips and holidays we take. We are noticing that our customers are increasingly willing to order even a relatively expensive product like a car on the Internet and conclude the financing or leasing contract accordingly. My wife and I bought a new sofa online after returning to Braunschweig. Although I wasn't able to try it out, it completely lived up to my expectations. The actual purchase took a matter of minutes and required only a few clicks – everything was convenient, secure and fast. This is exactly the buying behavior that will sharply increase in the future. Five years ago, this would have been hard to imagine, but today – and most recently accelerated by the pandemic – it's practically normal. This is a trend we have to respond to.
Interesting, so you no longer believe in the classic visit to the car dealership?
Bandmann: Yes, of course I do. But we want to provide a convenient and secure buying experience for all customers: both for the digital customers and for those who expect to undertake the traditional sales channel journey via a car showroom, including a test drive. And, very importantly, also for all intermediate forms, because there will be a fair number of hybrid customers, i.e. those who switch between the individual sales channels.
Okay, and how does the European realignment of Volkswagen Financial Services relate to this?
Bandmann: Well, we want to reorganize ourselves in Europe. That means we are transforming our current country-based orientation – which has evolved historically – into an organizational structure based on customer-focused sales channels. We have already successfully completed this process in a similar form in North America. The three sales channels serve the dealers, the digital direct business, and the fleet customers. For me, this channel structure is the prerequisite for the customer-centric approach I mentioned.
But sales channels are not customer channels…
Bandmann: In terms of the terminology alone, that might be true; but if one looks closely, one will notice, for example, that the fleet customer has different needs than the digital customer or the end retail customer. And it is precisely these customer needs that we are addressing in these new sales channels. To this end, we have appointed three channel managers at the central level who, each with a market manager and a multi-country team, fully serve the needs of the respective customer group.
We are not growing for the sake of growth.
Can you give us a specific example?
Bandmann: With pleasure, just imagine a large customer operating throughout Europe, or even the world. This customer should not have his fleet managed by us market by market and country by country. This would involve far too many different contacts to deal with. Such a customer benefits when we offer our services from a single source, out of one organizational structure and, above all, across national borders.
That sounds logical. You said at the beginning that the focus is on growth. But growth is not an end in itself...
Bandmann: That's right. We are not growing for the sake of growth, but because we intend to be an economically thriving and successful company ten years from now as well. Our employees have achieved outstanding things in the past. With the organizational realignment I talked about, there is still plenty of potential we can leverage in the individual sales channels. While we are already well positioned in the fleet segment in Germany, we still have room for improvement in Europe. We are at the beginning of our journey as far as the "Digital & Direct" pillar of our operating model is concerned, and this is certainly where we can grow the most despite all the investments we have already made. With regard to the dealerships, our company has already done a lot of things right in recent years and is very well placed.
Time for some closing remarks, don't you think?
Bandmann: Sure. The restructuring I described is essential from the standpoint of sales and is an important key to improving our competitive position and increasing our profitability. We are already pretty good, but we have to get even better, simply because the competition never sleeps. With the team we have behind us, we are well on the way to becoming the benchmark for the industry!
Mr. Bandmann, thank you for the interview!